I have been volunteering at No Second Night Out for around three months now – the time seems to have flown by since my interview with Tessa and Viv in January. I had said to a friend over the Christmas period that I had been interested in doing Crisis at Christmas for a while, but (over a few Christmas drinks) he suggested that there are opportunities to volunteer year round and it was this that really prompted me to get involved. No Second Night Out seemed particularly appealing because it was trying to intervene at the very early stages of homelessness to prevent rough sleepers from becoming entrenched. When doing some research, I was shocked to find a Crisis report that suggested the average age of death for a homeless person was just 47; nearly 30 years lower than for the general population, so preventing people from becoming established on the street seemed like a really worthwhile cause.
I have been working as a referral line volunteer, although when looking at volunteering opportunities I had very little knowledge of the homeless sector and so had an open mind about what I wanted to do. Viv and Tessa were really helpful in explaining what there is to do and what I could do. There are a few different roles for volunteers here, but the referral line volunteers typically man the Rough Sleeping Referral Line, which is a 24/7 phoneline through which we try to get information on rough sleeping that we can pass onto local outreach teams across London, who then try and make contact with rough sleepers to get them access to services. We get a variety of callers on the line; ranging from members of the public, to concerned friends or family, to rough sleepers themselves who are able to self-refer. Consequently the calls can differ quite substantially and so a key part of the role is communicating with people and managing their expectations, particularly when they are new to rough sleeping as the situation they find themselves in can be very distressing. It is, however, satisfying when a referral that you have taken has provided the outreach teams with enough information to help someone off the street and they arrive in the assessment hub. Although this is the main aspect of the role, there is plenty of scope for pitching in elsewhere. I have done the ‘food run’ to St. Pancras a couple of times and, as Richard suggested in his blog, a few of the cafes are very generous in donating food, which the clients enjoy greatly!
Since I started, I have been volunteering weekly on a Thursday evening between around 6pm and 11pm. My first few shifts were during the really cold weather in January and February. As you can imagine, the line was very busy and so it was a baptism of fire for me! Kim, who has been volunteering on the referral line since the project began, said my first night was the busiest she had ever experienced! It has worked out ok those because after those first few shifts, everything seems a bit more relaxed! Kim has been really good (and patient) in answering all of my various questions. The initial training given by Viv, who runs the referral line at NSNO, is very thorough and provided really useful information on what to say in certain situations. One of the best things about volunteering here though is the people, all of the staff and volunteers are really friendly and are more than willing to help out a novice like me although, as I said, my first few months have flown by and I have learnt so much already.